I have written about the hassle it was to get my Jamaican drivers license and for those of you who have actually gone on tour with me you have been told my opinions on driving a car in Jamaica but I thought I would put together some information for those interested in driving in Jamaica who are not familiar with what it is like to drive a car on the left side in such a dangerous country.
I get lots of questions about renting a car in Jamaica and my advice on driving yourself around on vacation and my first reaction is almost always to warn persons against doing so unless they have already driven on the left side and they have already been to Jamaica before. if you are considering renting a car on your first visit to Jamaica I will strongly advise you to reconsider because that is certainly a more dangerous and risky adventure. Trying to learn and understand a culture and drive around in a foreign country all at the same time as trying to enjoy the surrounding scenery and sights is simply to much for any person or group to manage. It’s a recipe for disaster in a country with so many beautiful scenes to stop and see.
Driving around Jamaica requires a prior knowledge of Jamaican customs, an understanding of the language and some familiarity with how to interact with Jamaicans because there are hardly any road signs in Jamaica and the even the Jamaican road maps are often useless enough that you are going to have to ask directions and know that you have been given good ones at that. Finding someone who knows where you are going and is willing to direct you there without misdirecting you is hard enough but finding someone who can properly explain how to get there and for you to actually understand it is actually far more difficult and even impossible on many occasions. Most Jamaicans do not drive and sadly many of them do not travel much outside of their parish or local area. A large percentage of Jamaicans have never traveled at all and are totally unfamiliar with how to get to places off the main road that circles the island. You will often find it harder to receive anything more than a hand gesture as the direction to travel and a grunt like “likkle more dat way” from people in rural areas or when dealing with those Jamaicans who are unfamiliar with tourists.
Jamaican road conditions are horrible and many of the roads on the interior are the original roads laid down in the 60′s and 70′s and they have never been maintained or repaired and they are littered with potholes or just plain washed out and difficult if not impossible to navigate without destroying a car or flattening a tire. You can’t imagine how many horror stories I have heard about folks getting flat tires in the worst places or a car stuck in a heavily damaged road conditions or even sliding off the side of ravines and into the gully. I have actually witnessed a car accident in the mountains where a tourist drove a car over the side of a mountain road and right into the top of a house that luckily was empty but still destroyed by the incoming car. Those people lived but they will never try driving in the mountains of Jamaica ever again and rightfully so, they had no idea where they were and they were heading down a hill in rainy conditions like some kind of suicidal maniacs trying to make it back to the hotel before before dark. They ended up almost killing themselves and ruining a perfectly good vacation and there was no reason to do so.
I started out driving in Negril Jamaica with an international drivers license I got from AAA which is enough if you want to rent a car and drive around on your vacation but I had to get the drivers license when I bought my own van. I drive around Jamaica very safe and cautiously and I always have because I can see how dangerous the roads are and I have seen many bad accidents and even more bad Jamaican drivers and I just knew you have to be a defensive driver and you cannot trust any other drivers skills or abilities. There is a dirty little secret in Jamaica that no one will speak much about but that certainly has caused a large number of deaths and accidents. Jamaica has around a 70% illiteracy rate and driving cars is one of the best jobs an average person can get so a large number of Jamaican drivers cannot read and they did not take a drivers tests.
They bought their drivers license from a crooked official for about $200US and next they rent a car from a local taxi cab service who rents a car to anyone with a valid license for about $40 US per day for vans and nicer cars to as low as $25 for certain route taxis. So for about $250 a Jamaican can buy a license and rent a car one and be on the road without ever passing a test. These guys are the hustlers you see speeding around Jamaican roads trying to make money to cover the expense of the car and maybe put some cash in their pockets and food in their families belly. You can’t blame a man for trying to take care of himself when you see the pressure these guys are under to make the ends meet but the idea they are risking not only their own lives but everyone else on the road is the scary part.
I have been in two car accidents in Jamaica. I can say that both of them were not my fault but I did let my guard down and forgot where I was at the time and both situations were made much worse because of me. I wrote about the first accident and road rage incident back when it happened but only those of you have met me know that I was in a very bad car accident in Jamaica that nearly cost me my life. I was driving my Nissan Vannette on a dark road in Gutters heading up Spur Tree Hill on my way to a reggae concert with my friend Ras Slick when I stopped to turn. There were 4 adults in the van and we were having a conversation when someone barked out stop because I was about to miss the turn. I came to a full and complete stop in my lane but apparently I was too close to the line and a driver coming down the hill who swerved around a car making a turn on the same road smashed into the drivers side corner of my van where I was stuck behind the wheel after the van came to a stop down the side of the road. It all happened so fast that I could not react but it happened so slow I can play it back in my head like it was in slow motion.
I actually saw the other drivers face of shock as he hit me and I remember watching the Jamaican youth who was seated in the front with me as he was thrown out the window and onto the street when I looked away from the oncoming car. My first reaction was to look back at my wife and kids in the back seat to verify they were alright and I remember asking my wife if the kids were alive. All three had a nice big red spot on their foreheads where they slammed into the back of the seat behind me but everyone was doing well otherwise. I yelled out for everyone to get out of the van and this was the moment of greatest fear in my life. I realized that my I could not feel my legs and they were pinned by the crushed van and steering wheel which was firmly planted in my crotch. I was stuck in my bus and I could not move and that’s when my head started whirling thoughts of dying in a blazing fire as my kids sat listening to my screams.
It was the most horrifying thought I had ever had and I immediately yelled out for them to remove my children because all I felt was liquid pouring out from the motor and I thought it was fuel about to burst in flames. Thankfully the liquid was only hot water from the radiator that was scalding my legs and not gasoline. I blacked out for a minute or two but I awoke to a scene of beauty as a dozen or more Jamaicans had begun to rip my van to pieces as they attempted to extract me from the wreck. There were people all over and they were hurting themselves to free me. I was elated and in tears of joy at the sight of my fellow man risking his own harm and pain to save me from mine. Two guys were in the cab with me pulling up on the steering wheel and there was a woman rubbing my head telling me “It’s ok rasta we gonna help you”, “we gonna help you rasta man”. This went on for what seemed an eternity and these people were so protective of me that they actually assaulted my wife when she came back from removing my children because the people helping me did not know who she was but they wanted to save me from any harm.
They finally had to tie a rope around the front clip of my van and another rope to the back of my van and they actually pulled my van apart with two trucks before I was able to slip my very broken and distorted leg out of the car seat. My left leg was bad and I was forced to tie it to a piece of 2 x 4 lumber as a splint to keep it from flopping around. It was becoming more difficult to keep aware and guide the efforts to rescue me because of shock and no one was in control but me and I had to make sure they did not kill me on the way out. I was of little help physically and they had to lay me on a half sheet of plywood and carry me over to a waiting pickup truck which was the only ambulance available to take me down into Mandeville about 20 minutes away to the closest hospital.
I spent about 3 days in Mandeville before being transported by van to Cornwall Regional in Montego Bay because they were the only hospital that could provide the surgery I was supposed to need. I ended up spending almost 15 days in the Mobay hospital waiting on xrays and about 5 different doctors to check me before I got a visit from a Cuban doctor. I spoke to him in Spanish and told him of my Cuban grandparents and he confided in me that surgery was unnecessary and that all I really needed was to properly set a cast on my leg. It seems the lead Jamaican doctor caught wind of my situation and he was trying to get me to pay cash for a private specialist to fix me up. He refered me to an outside doctor who could take care of me sooner and this . I almost went for the deal before my Cuban doctor told me it was not truly necessary and that the surgeon wasn’t even sure he could do much more than than pin it together and that the break was such that a pin would not help much at all.
After being laid up in traction with weights pulling my leg straight for 45 days I was finally set in a full leg cast and released to my home where I sat up for another 5 or more months on total bedrest. All told I was stuck in a bed for over 6 months and it cost me $1,000′s in lost wages and property as well as the huge bill I have to the Jamaican government. Almost two years later and they still don’t have a final bill for me and at this point I may just have to payback Jamaica by some other means because they seem to have lost all record of ever even treating me.
I feel a huge debt of gratitude and dedication to Jamaica because of how quick Jamaicans were to help me and I have dedicated this website and the tour guide service that has grown from it to the people of this great nation. To this day I spend more money on this website and my adventures in Jamaica than I ever make back in money but nothing can compare to the wealth of love and friendship that this investment has offered as my dividends. Not only has Jamaica changed my life but this incident has become the single greatest reminder of how precious my life and the lives of my wife and children are too me and why it is important to savor every single moment of every single day. Live long and irie!!Tags: customs, drivers license, food, Jamaica, jamaica driver, jamaica drivers license, jamaica hospital, jamaica medical, jamaicans, Moving to Jamaica, negril, Negril Jamaica, ras slick, re, reggae, travel